“That will be quite satisfactory,” Mr. Dunster agreed. “Let us be off, then, as soon as possible.” Presently they crawled on. They passed the boat train in Ipswich Station, where they stayed for a few moments. Mr. Dunster bought wine and sandwiches, and his companion followed his example. Then they continued their journey. An hour or more passed; the storm showed no signs of abatement. Their speed now rarely exceeded ten or fifteen miles an hour. Mr. Dunster smoked all the time, occasionally rubbing the window-pane and trying to look out. Gerald Fentolin slept fitfully.
“Have you any idea where we are?” Mr. Dunster asked once.
The boy cautiously let down the window a little way. With the noise of the storm came another sound, to which he listened for a moment with puzzled face: a dull, rumbling sound like the falling of water. He closed the window, breathless.
“I don’t think we are far from Norwich. We passed Forncett, anyhow, some time ago.”
“In torrents! I can’t see a yard ahead of me. I bet we get some floods after this. I expect they are out now, if one could only see.”
They crept on. Suddenly, above the storm, they heard what sounded at first like the booming of a gun, and then a shrill whistle from some distance ahead. They felt the jerk as their brakes were hastily applied, the swaying of the little train, and then the crunching of earth beneath them, the roar of escaping steam as their engine ploughed its way on into the road bed.
“Off the rails!” the boy cried, springing to his feet. “Hold on tightly, sir. I’d keep away from the window.”
The carriage swayed and rocked. Suddenly a telegraph post seemed to come crashing through the window and the polished mahogany panels. The young man escaped it by leaping to one side. It caught Mr. Dunster, who had just risen to his feet, upon the forehead. There was a crash all around of splitting glass, a further shock. They were both thrown off their feet. The light was suddenly extinguished. With the crashing of glass, the splitting of timber—a hideous, tearing sound—the wrecked saloon, dragging the engine half-way over with it, slipped down a low embankment and lay on its side, what remained of it, in a field of turnips.
As the young man staggered to his feet, he had somehow a sense of detachment, as though he were commencing a new life, or had suddenly come into a new existence. Yet his immediate surroundings were charged with ugly reminiscences. Through a great gap in the ruined side of the saloon the rain was tearing in. As he stood up, his head caught the fragments of the roof. He was able to push back the wreckage with ease and step out. For a moment he reeled, as he met the violence of the storm. Then, clutching hold of the side of the wreck, he steadied himself. A light was moving back and forth, close at hand. He cried out weakly: “Hullo!”